After the Parkland shooting last year, a modest package of gun-control laws passed through the Florida Legislature with one notable deletion: language about arming schoolteachers. As part of a compromise, lawmakers agreed to remove the controversial measure — but this year, the idea is back.
Tomorrow a state Senate bill that would allow trained teachers to carry guns at school (SB 7030) will go up for a vote before the Senate Appropriations Committee. A vote on the companion House bill has been temporarily postponed while members of both chambers negotiate the differences between the two measures.
Although the proposal to arm teachers is popular among some conservatives, most Floridians oppose such a plan, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll. There's also plenty of evidence that teachers with guns can be downright dangerous. Last week, Giffords, the gun-violence prevention organization led by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, put together an analysis of more than 60 incidents of mishandled guns at schools across the nation, including nine in Florida. Last year, the Tampa Bay Times did something similar, pulling state disciplinary reports that showed teachers and other school staff had made threats of violence, sometimes against students.
Now New Times has identified a litany of troubling incidents involving Florida educators, including many that have gone previously unreported. According to records from the Florida Department of Education:
- A high-school teacher in Duval County told students in her class they were lucky she "didn't have a gun in [her] purse, because after their behavior the prior day, she would shoot them."
- A middle-school teacher in Polk County told another teacher that he "pictured a bullet going into the front of [redacted student name]'s head and coming out the back." He also told the other teacher that at target practice, he thought about shooting his students and co-workers.
- A Palm Beach County high-school teacher told her students "she would blow them up if she had a gun," or words to that effect.
- A third-grade teacher in Marion County recited a rhyme to her class along the lines of "5, 4, 3, 2, 1, shut your mouths or I will get a gun."
- An Orange County art teacher held her hand in the shape of a gun and told a student that she would "have to shoot [him] right between the eyes" if he spilled paint.
- A drama teacher in Broward County allowed a student to bring a pellet gun, a paintball gun, and several toy guns to school, violating the school's policy.
- An Orange County science teacher told a guidance counselor he wanted one student to have priority getting into a special class even if it meant "taking a machine gun and shooting all the other students," or words to that effect.
- A first-grade teacher in Duval County brought a stun gun to school, where it was intercepted by a 7-year-old student who shocked himself.
- A Highlands County teacher told his sixth-graders he wished he had a .38-caliber pistol so he could shoot all the students.
- A middle-school teacher and basketball coach in Duval County brought a gun to school and showed it to students.
Penalties for those teachers ranged from a letter of reprimand to the permanent revocation of teaching certifications.
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Of course, those incidents don't reflect what happens in the vast majority of classrooms under the supervision of dedicated, hardworking Florida teachers. But some of the state's top educators say even well-meaning teachers could mistakenly misuse a gun if they were to be armed. The president of the statewide teachers' union, Fed Ingram of the Florida Education Association, has said he fears the possibilities.
"I don’t want any of my children’s teachers having guns because I don’t want them to be placed in a situation to make a mistake," Ingram told Florida Politics in February.
Ahead of Thursday's vote, the gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety has been driving a digital billboard truck around Tallahassee to discourage lawmakers from passing the bills. The organization also ran full-page ads Sunday in the Miami Herald, Tampa Bay Times, Tallahassee Democrat, St. Lucie County News, Orlando Sentinel, and Bradenton Herald.
Don’t Arm Florida Teachers, says just about every Floridian. #dontarmFLteachers @MomsDemand @book4senate @anitere_flores @AaronPBean @lizbethkb @DSimmonsFL @kellistargel @kathleen4SWFL @debbie_mayfield @TravisJHutson @JeffreyBrandes @BillGalvano @Fla_Pol @AMarch4OurLives pic.twitter.com/ky0qMqgbOb— MariQ (@Islander500) April 9, 2019